SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – Three women recently filed a lawsuit in San Francisco County Superior Court against Google, alleging the company pays female employees lower wages and overlooks them for promotions.

Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease and Kelli Wisuri also are pursuing a class action lawsuit that would cover all women who have worked at Google over the last four years, according to court documents.

"Throughout the class period and throughout California, Google has discriminated and continues to discriminate against its female employees by systematically paying them lower compensation than Google pays to male employees performing substantially similar work under similar working conditions, in violation of the California Equal Pay Act,” the complaint states. 

“Google's failure to pay women and men equal compensation for substantially similar work is not justified by any lawful reason.”

The complaint, filed Sept. 14, is seeking lost wages and damages. It also seeks to force Google to correct hiring practices it claims are discriminatory.

Sarah Wieselthier, an associate with Fisher & Phillips LLP, a law firm with several offices in California, told Legal Newsline that pay equity issues have come to the forefront of national discussion and debate since former President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and established a National Pay Task Force.

“Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign season, pay equity issues were raised and debated, and this has continued into 2017 with significant media attention shedding light on disparities in compensation,” she said.

According to the complaint, Google paid plaintiffs Ellis, Pease and Wisuri less than men “for substantially equal or similar work, including, but not limited to, assigning and keeping plaintiffs in lower compensation levels than similarly qualified men performing substantially similar work and assigning and keeping plaintiffs in job ladders and levels that had lower compensation ceilings than the job ladders and levels of similarly qualified men performing substantially similar work.”

The complaint also cites Google’s tiered pay system. Higher salaries and bonuses are typically given to employees on higher tiers. “Technical” employees also receive more pay than “non-technical” employees.

Ellis, Pease and Wisuri maintain that they were put on lower tiers than their male colleagues and limited in their opportunities to move up the ladder.

Issues similar to those cited in the Google complaint, according to Wieselthier, have led to legislation in several states, which have recently enacted equal pay legislation which expand upon the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”). 

“As legislation has been introduced, debated, and become law, we have seen more lawsuits filed and more media attention to this issue,” she stated.

Moreover, the lawsuits have covered a wide range of companies and employers.

“Whereas more traditional Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) actions tend to feature minimum wage and lower wage earners, the EPA lawsuits are often filed by individuals with more professional, higher paying jobs such as lawyers, accountants, pharmaceutical representatives, and engineers,” Wieselthier pointed out. 

“While the media attention has been centered on more prominent, large-scale employers, employers of all sizes have been named as defendants in pay equity lawsuits.”

Further, as a proactive measure, Wieselthier said her firm advises clients to conduct an internal audit to gain a better understanding of their pay practices and provide an opportunity to correct any unjustifiable pay disparities. 

“Employers should also review internal compensation policies and human resources forms and provide training to compensation decision-makers to ensure that compensation decisions are not impacted by any explicit or implicit gender or race bias,” she explained.

Amid an increased awareness of pay disparity issues, media attention, and new state laws, Wieselthier noted that there has been an increase in litigation in California and across the country. 

“California has been at the forefront of passing more progressive pay equity legislation, which requires employers to pay employees who are of different genders and of different races or ethnicities equal pay for performing substantially similar work,” she added. 

“Accompanying these employee-friendly statutes have been lawsuits alleging violations of both the EPA and state equal pay laws.” 

Employers also could have a lot to lose if they are found to have committed infractions under the EPA and equal pay laws of their state.

“For a violation of the EPA, an employer is liable in the amount of the pay differential during the two years preceding the action (three years if the violation is willful), plus liquidated damages in an equal amount, reasonable attorneys fees, and costs of the action,” Wieselthier added. “Similar damages are available to successful plaintiffs under state laws.” 

Firms representing the women and the proposed class are Alshuler Berzon LLP and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, both in San Francisco.

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